As a school counselor you have a duty to help students who are in distress. There is no doubt that this is a difficult task. Being a counselor is by no means an easy job; in fact it’s probably emotionally one of the hardest.
A student who is grieving is going to be in a state. There is no simple answer to this question because everyone is different. Some students will be very easy to talk to however; some might not want to talk to you at all. Especially being a student, they probably feel very self-conscious of themselves and therefore have put up a defensive barrier.
It’s important that you use your experience to assess the problem. The student could be grieving over a trivial matter, or it could be something quite serious. You need them to open up to you, because they will feel a lot better when they offload their problem to someone else.
So what should you do?
Don’t jump straight in. Some students probably don’t like the idea of talking to someone they don’t know. You need to friendly however don’t come across as demanding. If they want to talk to you they will. Don’t try and over force them.
Tell them that it’s confidential. Students are going to be very self-conscious. They don’t want their problem to get round the whole college. Give them a bit of confidence by telling them that it’s confidential. They are more likely to open up to you that way.
Keep your body language positive. Your body language is vital because it gives them a visual message of what type of person you are. If you have a slouched back and you are leaning on the back of your chair, it’s quite unlikely that they will feel able to engage in a conversation.
Eye contact. Eye contact with the person will also have a dramatic impact upon your conversation. This will show that you care and that you are engaged in the conversation. They will feel more secure if you are engaged.
Ask them open questions. Ask questions which cannot be answered by yes or no answers. This will help them tell you the problem. (Don’t ask to many questions, let them talk if they want to)
Tell them about similar experiences you might have had. A great way to help a student gain confidence is to make them realize that they were not the only ones. We are all human!
When you discover the problem think about ways to help them. The answer probably wont be obvious. It could take you a few days to figure it out. Before you even think about putting your idea into action, ask them if they like it. Don’t do anything without asking them.
Sometimes they might have just needed to offload their problem onto someone and they don’t need to come again. Ask if they would like to see you again, and if they do organize a time.
Every person is different and every person will react in different ways. You need to figure out what type of person they are and then act in an appropriate way. Be thoughtful and understanding no matter what the problem. It could be trivial but it matters to them so it should matter to you.